GREEN BAY, Wis. As a former NFL kicker watching a current one, new Packers Hall of Fame inductee Chris Jacke could tell what was wrong with Mason Crosby this season.
When Crosby's struggles wore on, especially during a midseason stretch in which he missed five of his nine field goals, Jacke could tell something had changed.
"I firmly believe with him it was mental," Jacke told FOXSportsWisconsin.com on Tuesday. "He has exceptional leg strength, so that was never the question. He just went into a slump. It just so happened it was with Mason, and, with a kicker, everyone sees it. You only get out there and get 30 field-goal attempts a year, and if you miss 12 of them, everyone notices. If you're a receiver and you drop six passes out of 100 passes, no one is really going to notice."
Crosby made only 21 of his 33 field-goal attempts this season, finishing with an NFL-worst 63.6 percent success rate. The next-lowest accuracy by an NFL kicker was San Francisco's David Akers, who made 69.0 percent of his attempts.
"It was all mental with (Crosby)," Jacke said. "You could tell he was just over-thinking himself. When he got back on track, you could tell he was just going out there and kicking the ball and not thinking about it."
Akers' accuracy issues led to the 49ers signing Billy Cundiff as competition late in the season. Though Akers ultimately beat out Cundiff and remained San Francisco's kicker, the Packers took a much different approach with Crosby. Every time Crosby had a bad game, coach Mike McCarthy would publicly pronounce his continued faith in the team's slumping kicker.
"Mason is our kicker," McCarthy stated on multiple occasions.
Crosby missed two field goals this season between 30-39 yards and missed three from 40-49 yards. But Crosby really struggled from beyond 50 yards, connecting on only two of his nine attempts from that range despite being known for having good leg strength. Minnesota Vikings rookie Blair Walsh (10 for 10) and Cleveland Browns veteran Phil Dawson (7 for 7) were both perfect from 50-plus yards.
Crosby, 28, made his final six field goals to finish out this season and still has three years remaining on a contract he signed in 2011.
Crosby has never been one of the NFL's most accurate kickers but entered the 2012 season coming off his best year (85.7 percent). Crosby had no competition from other kickers in training camp, and the job was unquestionably his from the beginning until the end of the season, no matter how rocky his performances were. Now, Packers general manager Ted Thompson will have to decide this offseason whether Crosby showed enough late this season for the team to continue its unwavering support of him.
"I put in the work and I overcame a lot this year," Crosby said on Jan. 2. "It was disappointing. I think also what I learned and how I learned to work through it and deal with it (is important). Obviously, it was something I wanted to be successful with, and I had to be successful with that patience they showed.
"It's kind of onto another season. It's a fresh start there, build off what happened at the end of this year and then go forward."
If Jacke is right, and all of Crosby's issues were mental, perhaps the Packers don't have to worry about bringing in another kicker for several years. However, if there were no physical problems, then Crosby showed an inability to overcome a mental slump in a timely manner. Crosby's slump lasted for more than two months.
Either way, Crosby's inconsistency has created one of the Packers' more pressing offseason decisions at a position the team didn't think it would have to worry about for quite some time.
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